GURJOT KANG; Guest Writer; kanggk@plu.edu

Last Wednesday, Sept. 13, a 15 year old sophomore student opened fire at Freeman High School in the town of Rockford, Spokane County. The shooter, Caleb Sharpe, left three female students injured, and one other student, Sam Strahan, dead. Sharpe carried two weapons on him, a handgun and an AR-15 rifle that he brought earlier that day from home.  Strahan, described by some as being an old friend of Sharpe, was shot twice while trying to calmly confront him.

This event adds to a long list of school shootings that have sprung up all over the United States since the 2013 devastating mass school shooting in Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left the entire nation shaken. Once again, we’ve opened up a controversial dialogue surrounding gun laws and schools.

According to data from the Everytown for Gun Safety research organization, the shooting that took place at Freeman High School is only one of over 200 school shootings that have occurred in the United States as of January 2013. In a nation rampaged by mass school shootings and where “Every day, 93 Americans are killed with guns”, many serious questions have arisen on the legitimacy of our nation’s gun policies and the ability of systems meant for safety established in our schools and colleges to protect our children from experiencing the same fate as the those at Freeman High School.

We must put away the partisanship that divides our nation on such issues in order to come up with better decisions that will guarantee a brighter and less frightening future for our children.

In the wake of the events that took place at Freeman on Wednesday, some students reported that the perpetrator of the crime, Sharpe, had shown many prior symptoms of aggression leading up to the shooting. Sharpe, who presented signs of being suicidal, was at the time meeting with a school counselor. Students reported many symptoms displayed by Sharpe, such as leaving threatening notes conveying he was going to do “something stupid” as well as showing an increasing interest in school shootings and posting videos of himself handling guns online through social media.

After being arrested, Sharpe cites his experiences with bullying at school as the main motive behind his terrible actions. This then brings up the question: if this student had shown so many signs of desiring to commit harm to himself and others, besides suspending Sharpe for only a couple of days, why didn’t the school take any precautionary efforts to get in contact with authorities and address the seriousness of this issue before it got out of hand?  It almost feels like as a country, we wait until such horrific events take place and the lives of our loved ones are lost before we even consider enforcing broader efforts towards providing greater campus safety on K-12 schools and college campuses like Pacific Lutheran University.

As an aunt of two younger nephews, ages five and nine, both in elementary school, the news of the Pilchuck High School shooting in Marysville in 2014 left me completely shocked. The shooting was only a couple minutes away from where my nephews lived in Marysville. This was the very same high school that my older nephew thought of attending in the future and getting involved in their athletics. Now the main association he has with the school doesn’t have to do with his interest in basketball, but of the shooting that left five young students, including the perpetrator, dead in the cafeteria. This goes to show just how much the tragedy of school shootings not only deeply impacts the families of those involved, but also devastates surrounding communities.

A recent development in the news story following Pilchuck High School shows that the four families who lost their children that day and the fifth family whose child was critically injured recently won a lawsuit for $18 million against the school district after a substitute teacher, Rosemary Cooper, failed to pass along information to school officials when a student warned her of a potential shooting and showed a suicidal text message from the shooter of the attack. This causes me to think of the larger efforts and positive changes our society can enact in ending the extensive list of school shootings that have held a prolonged cloud of despair above our nation for too long.  How instead of proposing ideas to arm our teachers with more of the same weapons that kill our students, we should require schools to train staff on what to do if there is a potential danger of a shooting and how to take greater steps towards bullying and suicide prevention, in addition to increasing security on all campuses.

It is important as shown in the cases of Pilchuck and Freeman that school staff is trained on how to recognize the signs, properly report any suspicious activity and, ultimately, stop the shooter in his or her tracks before the shooting even takes place.  For we must ask ourselves, how many more school shootings and the lives of innocent youth have to be taken away before we decide enough is enough? We must put away the partisanship that divides our nation on such issues in order to come up with better decisions that will guarantee a brighter and less frightening future for our children.

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